Viewpoint: Medical Economics wants your feedback

September 5, 2008

Medical Economics consists of much more than just our insight. Your voice and your opinions form an integral element of our 360 Network, whether you're responding to an article, weighing in on our web polls, or even venting your frustrations.

It all started innocently enough as a question submitted to Medical Economics' Practice Management Q&A column. What resulted was unmistakable evidence of your thirst for knowledge.

"I plan to charge a fee for filling out forms for physicals, disability, and family medical leave," the question read. "Would this policy run afoul of health plan regulations or any other rules?"

After consulting our panel of experts, we offered this seemingly straightforward answer: Yes. Not only does the American Medical Association say physicians shouldn't charge patients for completing insurance claim forms, but some third-party payers have prohibited such charges, viewing them as additional fees for covered services.

"Primary care practices are drowning in uncompensated services, and this is one area where that is often allowed to happen!" wrote Thomas J. Allen, MD, FAAFP, of Loveland, Colorado, in a message that typified the tenor of your responses.

"It certainly isn't reasonable that the practice should lose money on paperwork that isn't an obligation but a favor," added Christine Byrnes, an administrator at the Florida SpineCare Center in Orlando.

Judy Bee, a longtime practice management consultant for Medical Economics, offers additional insight on the subject. According to Bee, the problem-and the justifiable fee-arises when the form requires judgment or opinion that was not rendered in the course of treatment.

Conversely, any form that merely requires transfer of data from an existing medical record-say, a school athletic exam or clearance for surgery-can be filled out by support staff in conformity with the documentation, then approved by the physician.

"My rule of thumb is there should be no charge if the form can be filled out easily by a staffer," Bee says. "If the medical questions cannot be answered by reading the documentation, or [if it] requires judgment of the physician, a charge should be considered."

Similarly, any long, more burdensome form should include a fee, according to Bee. And if the patient has not been seen recently, or the form demands information that is not known, the patient should expect to pay for an office visit to verify all answers.

Out of all this, two things were made wonderfully clear: You, the readers of Medical Economics, know your stuff, and you relish the opportunity to learn and share.

And this fact cuts to the heart of our mission. We hope you find our new look appealing. But we also hope you find yourself increasingly engaged by the content provided within our pages and at http://www.memag.com.

After all, Medical Economics consists of much more than just our insight. Your voice and your opinions form an integral element of our 360 Network, whether you're responding to an article, weighing in on our web polls, or interacting with colleagues. Your shared experiences are what bring the MedEc community together, and we're happy to be your conversation starter.

So keep the questions-and the feedback-coming, and rest assured that the system is working. Your colleagues are counting on you!

Erich BurnettEditor-in-Chief